Ali Gomaa, Egypt’s Grand Mufti has just made a statement that should raise the spirits of all who care for the well-being of the Egyptian people and a future of religious toleration and, even more, ultimate acceptance. No, he did not endorse Pagan spirituality, that is a statement that will not happen in my lifetime. But he has made a crucial step towards recognizing the Sacred in religions other than his own, and communicating it widely in Egypt. This is no small thing because the title “Grand Mufti” refers to the highest official regarding Islamic law in a Sunni Moslem country.
Long time readers of this blog know I pursue several constant themes. One of them is the critical importance of Interfaith work. This is for two reasons: tactical and spiritual.
Tactically people caught in the snares of vicious interpretations of their sacred texts are enmeshed in a kind of mental mobius strip, with no way to think themselves out of their trap. What helps, perhaps all that helps, is being able to listen to their hearts and finally say “Enough!” And burst free from the mental bonds that cut them off from genuine spirituality and even basic decency. We Pagans, as a small minority in an overwhelmingly Christian culture would be wise to help this process whenever possible by working with other faith traditions, establishing warm personal relations with some, and being accessible. I know this is not work for everyone, but it is important work.
Spiritually the case for Interfaith work is even stronger. To me one of the defining elements in Pagan spirituality is that the Sacred is everywhere, and not just transcendental to us. It is in the mountains and in the deserts and in the seas and in the cities. There are places of exceptional power, and there is the constant background Presence that are extremely easy to miss.
Being ultimately everything, no single human religion can give equal attention to all its dimensions. We are limited beings living 24 hour days, much of which is taken up by sleep. Different religions focus on different aspects of the Sacred and to my mind do a better or worse job of increasing the quality of people’s connection with it. There have been wonderful Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Pagan and other teachers. And there have been practitioners of all these paths that have soiled and dishonored them deeply. No one has it perfect and no one can take their current level of wisdom for granted.
In Interfaith we find a way to both appreciate the many other ways people can honor the Sacred and come to a better appreciation of our own. At least that has been my experience and the experience of many other Pagans who are involved. I think Interfaith connections deepen my specifically Pagan understanding of the Sacred.
For these two reasons I am always overjoyed when wise members of other traditions, particularly respected teachers, help their fellow members of their faith to widen their horizons and open their hearts. Pope John XXIII was a far different and better man that the current Papal embarrassment and perhaps the Grand Mufti of Egypt will compare as favorably with the bigot Khomeini and those who act in his name,